For Carlos, Every Day Is Mother’s Day
by Mark Chmiel
Katherine Kelliher read aloud the following letter at tonight’s Share the Wealth on the Restorative Justice Movement. From their week in Los Angeles, Katherine and Anne gave a lot to fill our hearts. Please pass on to others, if so moved.
CARLOS — KVSP — H89998
I was born a Mama´s boy, from as far as I can remember. I´ve been very close to her and consider her my best friend along with my wife. I always tell my mother the truth, although I don’t tell her everything because I don’t want to hurt her.
She´s been by my side when we crossed the border from Mexico to the U.S.A., when I started kindergarden and learned to speak English, when I graduated elementary and junior high school, the many times I got kicked out of different schools for fighting and gang activities, when I got shot on my mouth with a .22 caliber handgun in a drive-by shooting, the many times I got arrested and she picked me up in the juvenile halls Eastlake, Los Padrinos, Sylmar and Juvenile Camps Lancaster (Challenger), Camp Miller, Camp Holton, plus several police stations around Los Angeles County. She was there at my court dates and visiting me everywhere. My mom doesn´t speak English, but she was there supporting her son always.
I got arrested at 16 yrs old doing a robbery with a gun. I went to Los Padrinos Juvenile Hall in 1991 … A month later some detectives came and charged me for a murder cause of the ballistics done on the gun I got arrested with, so then they sent me to Eastlake Juvenile Hall unit K-L, where they kept all the juveniles charged with murder … Another month later as I went to court, the judge feared that I would try to escape and so he sent me to the County Jail at ¨HOJJ¨with other juveniles … A month after that other detectives came and charged me with another murder without evidence, only one of my homies throwing something on me that he did, since I was already being charged for a murder. To make a long story short, the D.A. offered me a 15-to-life sentence and my lawyer said that since I was a juvenile that I would go to C.Y.A. and get out when I turned 25 yrs old … I was scared and on my own. I took the deal, my Mom never knew nothing…
I did got caught redhanded doing the robbery and while my best friend pulled the triggger on the first murder I was charged with I was there and was his accomplice … The second murder I really did not know what happened or who did it.
So as I took the deal I figured that I was doing the right thing. Then the judge sent me to Norwalk C.Y.A. Reception Center for a 90-day observation period and so I was convinced I would do my time in C.Y.A. and get out when I turned 25 yrs old, but when I went back to court to get sentenced the judge said that I would do my 15-years-to-life sentence in the adult state prison … I was shocked and I cried all night … I never told my mother what happened.
I got to Wasco State Prison Reception Center in 1993 after two years in Juvenile Hall/County Jail, and I was scared. I was only 18yrs old and I saw huge prisoners from all races with tattoos all over, including their faces. I saw drugs and weapons, I saw and learned about all the prison gangs and got even more scared.
I had to survive prison life and so I fought and stabbed, I used drugs and got involved with gang stuff. I got tattoos all over, including my neck and face … I became one of those crazy looking and feared prisoners that I first saw in the Reception Center. I did time in the Ad/Seg and Pelican Bay SHU, I got validated as an associate of the Mexican Mafia …
Throughout all the madness, both my grandmothers passed away, then my dad passed away in 2010 from a heart attack … I was hurting from within my soul …
Being in Pelican SHU validated I started to change my life … In 2008 on my birthday I felt hopeless and depressed, so I got on my knees and cried out for God and accepted Jesus Christ into my life. Since then things have gotten brighter, except for my father´s death … I have gotten my G.E.D. and over a hundred certificates from school, Bible study courses, self-help, Narcotics Anonymous, Alcoholics Anonymous, parenting, anger management, Gang Prevention Anonymous, self-reconstruction therapy, Inside Out Writers, and I go to church whenever possible.
In 2009, my childhood sweetheart came back into my life and we got married in December 2012 in Pelican Bay SHU through a glass window … I knew I had to change my life completely and get out of the SHU…
In 2013 I was released from the SHU for being inactive as an associate and came to Delano State Prison. Within a couple of weeks I saw all the madness all over again with gangs and racial stuff, which I didn´t want to be part of anymore, and so I made a choice to ¨Drop out,¨ or as our ¨Inside Out Writers¨ instructor says, that we ¨Drop in¨ to a new life.
In July 2014, I went to my parole board hearing and they said I was eligible for the new law that just passed, ¨SB260 – Youth Offender Parole Hearing.¨ However, that I needed to complete the T.H.U. program and get a trade before. They gave me a parole date to finally go home. Although I was disappointed I also saw hope for my next parole hearing. I go back in a couple of years and I hope and pray that I will get a parole date under SB260. I´m doing everything possible to change from within and have become a completely different person, thanks be to God.
Through all of this my Mom has been there. She writes me once or twice each month and sends me money and orders packages for me …
I have never told or spoke about my crime or my sentence to my mother because I don´t want to hurt her and she never asks me nothing … She has just always been my loving and caring mother who provides for me and tries to be there for me. My mother is an angel sent from God, she´s the sweetest and kindest person I have ever met…
Through all my life she has been there no matter what, and I have five brothers and one sister and she tries to be there for them as well and tries to do everything she can for them. One of my brothers was born with a mental dissability, he´s slow and so my Mom has taken care of him from birth … My mother is around 73 yrs old with financial and health problems, but she still takes care of my brother who´s about 50 yrs old. She tells me all the time that we are her kids and she will do everything possible to look out for all of us until her last breath. She´s my angel from God.
Recently, through advice from ¨Doris¨ from Jesuit Restorative Justice Initiative, I wrote my Mom a letter and told her how much I love her and said ¨sorry¨ for everything I have put her through and thank you for being there always.
That was the first time I wrote a letter like that and I cried as I wrote it, but it felt so good. I didn´t say specifics about my crime or sentence, but I have a feeling that she knows more than what I think she knows.
My mom has hearing problems, plus I have been in Ad/Seg or the SHU for many years… So I hadn´t spoken to my Mom on the phone since around 2006, but once when my wife called the prison when my dad passed away and the counselor allowed my wife to do a 3-way call to my mother and we mostly cried for a few minutes. Besides this one short grieving call we hadn´t spoken on the phone since around 2006…. When I came to the T.H.U. I tried calling her many times, but she tells me on her letters that she cannot hear the phone ringing because of old age and her hearing problems. So I stopped calling.
Next thing you know, one of her friends wrote me and sent me her phone number in case I needed anything … And guess what, I called her friend to ask her to check on my Mom and see if my Mom needs anything … Her friend was driving on the freeway going to my Mom´s house having received my letter, and so her friend told me to call back in ten minutes so I could talk to my Mom … I hung up and told my co-workers (porters) that I really needed to use the phone again in about ten minutes, that it was very important …
I rarely use the phone and so they understood that it must be something very important, so they gave me the courtesy.
Anyways, after I hung up someone said that the church people are here … I realized that it was a Thursday, when they usually come, and so I walked to the C-Section window and I saw into the dining hall where I quickly saw ¨Doris¨ with the rest of the Jesuit Restorative Justice Initiative group. I was so happy and started to wave at Doris because she had given me the motivation to apologize and tell my Mom how much I love her and how much she means to me, etc..
Doris was in front of me and I was about to call so I could talk to my mother after so many years …
I went back to the phone and called my mom´s friend once again and my mother´s voice was loud and clear … We both got choked up and told each other how much we love each other, how much we miss each other, and she mentioned that she got my letter. We cried and spoke for 15 minutes, that´s how long our calls are. I was extremely happy and as I hung up I rushed to my cell to get dressed to have Catholic Services and talk to Doris and share with her what just happened.
I explained about the letter and the phone call and her influence, which I was very grateful for … Doris told me that I had to sit down and write about it, that she would come next month, May 5th, and read all about it.
I´m super shy and quiet, I have a fear of public speaking, I´m not that good at spelling and punctuations, but I hope and pray that I bring hope and positive influence to whoever reads or hears my story, especially the kids in juvenile hall. I was once in your shoes and the gang life destroyed my life and brought me so much grief, heartache and pain. However, it´s not too late to change, there is hope for you as there is for me …
I´ve been locked up 24 years straight and thought I would die in prison, but here I am a new man looking forward to tomorrow and with so much hope for the future
More than anything, I can´t wait to finally go home within a couple more years and spend time with my wife and my dearest mother, my angel sent from God.
Much love and respect,